Episode 12 takes us on a journey through the mind of another Asian artist! Before forming Njenworks, Natasha led a wide array of international projects at a number of studios and agencies in New York City, ranging in scale from identity programs, environmental branding to comprehensive signage systems. From 2006 to 2009, she was an art director at 2×4, Inc., where she lead the studio to develop identity and brand strategy for Harvard Art Museum, large-scale screen display for Chanel, exhibitions for the Guggenheim Foundation in Abu Dhabi and Nike Beijing. Her design has earned a variety of awards and has appeared in a number of publications, including Art Directors Club Young Guns 4, Creative Review, Metropolis, China Art and Design, Soda Magazine, and Rosebud Magazine. Needless to say, she is good at what she does! I grill her on Asian films, her creative process and life in the Big Apple in an exclusive one-on-one. Scroll below to read the full interview!
Describe your time as an art director in New York.
Natasha: I consider myself as another designer working in New York City. During the previous 12 years that I have been living and working in New York, I have not always been an “art director” nor have I aspired to be one. I came to the city for school in 1998 and began working as a intern right away. I worked throughout my school years and was lucky enough to work at some of the most interesting studios in the city– Pentagram, Base Design, 2×4, etc. I think New York is still a pretty central design portal in the world, despite that the internet is really breaking down geographical boundaries. As a designer in New York, you are immersed in and challenged by influxes in thinking, whether they are related to design or not, and that’s very exciting.
You’ve done some pretty upscale work for brands such as Nike. What is next on the horizon for you?
Natasha: I’ve done projects big and small, cultural and commercial, local and international, architectural and virtual, serious and not-so-serious… It’s really a mixed bag of things with a wide range of genre and scale.
In 2010, I founded Njenworks, my own practice / business. It is still in its infancy–tremendously uncertain yet full of possibilities. I’m just continuing the path I’ve been on–finding cultural relevance in each project– but I am doing it on my own terms now, and it feels quite liberating.
A designer can stand out with an idealistic idea or go with the flow of the client’s wishes. How do you see yourself in this situation?
Natasha: I don’t believe in the dichotomy of “designer’s vision vs. clients’ wishes.” Design is never a kind of “pure” act in itself and it’s usually in constant dialogue with outside forces that are not part of the design itself–whether they are a client’s wish, a budget constraint, a function requirement, a social agenda, a marketing mandate, etc. These conditions, which can be really vague or super concrete, shape the context of the design, and we designers operate within this framework that’s not always devised by ourselves. Ultimately whatever we design is relevant to this world as are clients, and that’s interesting.
So is it your design from start to finish or do other people have input? Like they go, “Can you change this a little?”
Natasha: I don’t work alone. My work is made up with collaborations and inputs from many, many people– clients, other designers, writers, programmers. Each project goes through rounds and rounds of iterations, trial and errors and they are just part of the process.
Are you a fan of Asian films or Anime? Have any favorites?
Natasha: I grew up with Asian cinema, mostly with films from Hong Kong…a lot of fairly-tale, historical movies that involve martial arts. I was particularly impressed with the “Once Upon a Time in China” series. It was purely entertaining. We didn’t have that much anime but Japanese comic books were big during my childhood– Do-rae-mon, Black Jack, etc. I guess since I grew up with these materials, they still hold a special place in my memory.
What are you afraid of regarding the future?
Natasha: I am not really afraid of the future. I am interested in the future. I think each era has its own aspirations, possibilities and dilemmas and they are all part of the evolution. We should be working on solving the problems we are facing in our time but we shouldn’t be fearful about what the future may be.
Thanks for the opportunity of talking to you. One last question: Any advice for designers out there, who are willing to improve their skills?
Natasha: Finding what interests you is important. When you know what interest you, it’s much easier to shape your own learning program, especially now that knowledge is always readily available on the internet.